“I have never killed anyone, but I have read some obituary notices with great satisfaction.” – Mark Twain
Jerks die, too.
I was walking home from the grocery store the other day while listening to the latest Tim Ferriss podcast. It was a beautiful day with no clouds in the sky. The air was warm. I was content.
Suddenly, my phone started blowing up. Text message after text message interrupted my listening pleasure. It was a series of announcements that a resident in my building died. “Jim died.” “Jim passed away last night.” “Jim pulled a Jacob Marley.”
I was mildly shocked and didn’t immediately respond. I had to absorb the news. I was surprised to find that I wasn’t sad or even emotional. When I realized my feelings, I responded to each text with, “Thank you.”
I was sad that my neighbor died because it’s sad that people die, but I wasn’t necessarily sad that it was Jim who died. Jim was a pain in the ass. The people who texted me about his death also think he was a pain in the ass. No one was crass enough to dance on Jim’s grave, but people have died in our building before without the word of mouth not seen since Steve Jobs’ passing.
As the evening continued, I wondered what my lack of sadness said about me. Was I a horrible person? Did I not value life? I kept thinking the same thing over and over. I was sad that someone died but not sad by who died.
I wrestled with my lack of sympathy for a few days. I didn’t discuss my dilemma with anyone for fear of being outed as detestable.
Cherish good people.
After doing yoga one morning, a black and white picture of my grandparents on my living room shelf caught my attention. My grandmother is sitting on my grandfather’s shoulders when he’s home on military leave. The scene looks as 1940s as it can. Cars, clothes, and hair, all period. It’s special because it’s a candid moment with my grandparents laughing and goofing off.
I remembered how sad I was when they both passed away. I had to take a day off when my grandmother died because I was such a wreck.
It occurred to me that it wasn’t my fault that I wasn’t sad about Jim’s passing. If we’re responsible for our own actions, we’re responsible for the reactions. Newton’s Third Law of Motion says that for every action, there’s an equal and opposite reaction. Therefore, we attract that which we put out. This is also known as karma.
Death holds lessons.
Jim’s passing wasn’t a time for me to mourn. It was a time for me to learn. The lesson for me was to learn to live a life that when it’s my turn to pass the people in my life spread the news with sympathy and not relief. I want people to celebrate my life and not relish my death. My lesson is to live life in such a way that people cherish my contribution.
It’s not wrong for us to not mourn someone’s death. What’s wrong is to not reflect on why we don’t mourn the death. There’s a lesson for us in our lack of mourning. Is your lesson to do or not do something? Is your lesson on the celebration of life? Love? Impermanence? Acceptance?
We’d all do well to ask ourselves these three questions when anyone passes:
- How do I feel about this death?
- Why do I feel this way about this death?
- What can I learn from my feelings about this death?
Every death doesn’t need to be sad, but no death needs to be in vain. There’s a lesson for us in each case. It’s our responsibility to learn the lesson.